Thursday, March 24, 2011

platform 9 and 3/4, please

Last week was Spring Break, so I hit up Florida (woooooooo!) with my sister. It was no MTV's Spring Break, though, since we stayed with my grandfather in his senior citizen's apartment complex.  The weather was absolutely perfect- 80 degrees and sunny. The last two spring trips I've taken, the weather has been cool and not beach-friendly. We only got one beach day this time, but we did get to sit by the pool and get some sun.


The big news of break is that we went to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios. This was one of the reasons we went to Florida in the first place for break, because my sister (on the right) REALLY wanted to go. Harry Potter World was amazing. The amount of detail in it is unbelievable. The rides are fantastic. But I wanted more. Like, an entire theme park more.


The WWofHP is in the Islands of Adventure part of the Universal Studios parks. You only need a ticket for Islands of Adventure. We bought the two-park pass which was entirely unneeded, since the Universal Studios part was kind of boring. Both parks were absolutely packed. Apparently it was Spring Break for 98% of the country as well.

We got to the park around half an hour after it opened and made a beeline for WWofHP. It was already to capacity, so we waited in a line (theme for the day) and got an entry ticket for two hours later. The lines throughout WWofHP and the whole park were insane. In the picture above, see the guy on the right with the black/gray backpack? He is waiting in a 20 minute long line for butterbeer. See the guy on the left with the black/gray backpack? He is waiting in a THREE HOUR long line for the Forbidden Journey ride.


My sister and I tried to make the best out of the day, even though lines were crazy. We got some butterbeers ($3.25 each) and walked around Hogsmeade first. One entrance of WWofHP is set up like the village of Hogsmeade from the books. The other goes past the Hogwarts Express and is kind of Diagon Alley. Ollivander's Wand shop was there (with an insane line to get in- to a gift shop!).


Hogsmeade has Honeydukes candy shop, Zonko's trick shop, the Hog's Head and Three Broomsticks restaurants, and a dragon ride. There was no line to get into Honeydukes and Zonko's, so we stopped in for a look. The main problem with WWofHP is that everything is so tiny. It's meant to be authentic, but instead you are shoulder to shoulder with other HP fans. Honeydukes had every kind of candy imaginable, but most were the same kind you can get at CVS, Meijer, or Target. They did have some nifty chocolate frogs, but at $10 a piece, I passed. We chatted with one of the employees there and they go through 3000 chocolate frogs a day at least. On a busy day, it could be 30,000.  That is a LOT of chocolate.


Chocolate frogs are in the blue packaging in the background. This vignette is in the window to Honeydukes. It uses some small video screens to portray the collectible cards found in the chocolate frogs, like in the books. There were small touches like this around the park. One window had mandrakes screaming. We could barely make it into the Zonko's portion of the shop, so we grabbed a cauldron cake ($4) and took a break before riding the Dragon Challenge ride. The line snakes up the side of a hill and into a tent, as if you're in the Triwizards Cup yourself. You pick a dragon - red or blue- and then the two race in a twisty roller coaster through the walls and gulleys of Hogwarts. My sister and I rode it twice and liked the red better. Make sure to take your flip-flops off because you go upside down and every which way on this ride!


The line to get into the Forbidden Journey was about three hours long, so we visited the rest of the park until 7pm. We finally decided to suck it up and stand in line for the rest of the night so we could ride the ride.  We ended up waiting about an hour, but that could have been cut in half had we known about the Single Riders Line. Several of the more popular rides have a single riders line that cuts off from the main line and fills in extra seats in the cars to keep the ride full. The second time we rode, it only took twenty minutes. Look for signs at the entrance to popular rides to jump into this line.


The Forbidden Journey is inside the Hogwarts Castle. The line stretched down the front walk and around the corner. At the entrance to the castle is a set of lockers to lock up your stuff. We wished we had kept some money or water for the long wait, since there was a beer cart halfway through!



Once you leave the lockers, the line winds around the bottom of the hill to the back of the theme park!! In the top pic, you can see that they have the gates open to hide the line as it snakes back towards the loading docks. It then winds around the hill back and forth several times before finally making its way up to the greenhouse. Nothing special to see yet, no special touches or moving parts to keep you entertained.The line moved pretty fast through here because of the way the ride is ultimately set up- the ride cars are moving on a conveyor belt so people are constantly getting on and off.


Once the line enters Hogwarts, though, it's another story entirely . My camera didn't pick up all of the special effects in here. This part of the line took about 20-30 minutes but you're constantly moving so you can almost take it at your own pace. You wind your way past the Mirror of Erised, the Hogwarts Jewels (that keep track of the points for each house) and through several rooms in Hogwarts. In this one, you walk through a series of portraits and some of them actually move!!! You also walk through Dumbledore's office. I think there's a line for a tour of the Hogwarts Castle by itself if you don't want to stand in the whole line to ride the ride. Watch out for line jumpers- we saw at least two jump from the tour line into the ride line, saving themselves at least an hour of waiting time.



Then you walk into the Defense Against the Dark Arts room where Harry, Ron and Hermione talk to you. The ride uses some sort of hologram projection images so that the three characters look like they are really there. You can kind of see the three in the second picture...they look like ghosts. In real life it's more effective, my camera just didn't pick it up well. The three wizards kind of set up the premise of the ride for you. It made no sense, really, but all of the special effects are so cool it doesn't matter. You end up eventually in the Room of Requirement with the Sorting Hat and then you take off on the ride, which is truly amazing. It's about five minutes long, and afterwards you end up in "Filch's Office," which is another gift shop. It was so so so so amazingly packed in there that we didn't stick around at all.

Overall, the WWofHP is really really really cool, but we left wanting more. A lot more. My sister and I kept bringing up other parts of the books that would make great rides, attractions, interactive events or shops. There is just so much more they could add! I know that they can't please everyone, since there are so many diehard fans that come to WWofHP. We saw tons of kids in homemade HP tshirts, walking around in robes for their favorite house, etc. But seriously, we paid $100+ to get in, and I felt like it wasn't really worth that much money.

Would I recommend it? Maybe on a slow day in October if you got discounted tickets, but at the full price, I'm not sure I can recommend Universal Studios unless they double the size of the Harry Potter park. On the upside, though, I did get two butter beers and they were delicious!

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